Monday, September 6, 2004

De-educating the electorate...

I’m reading through the September issue of “American Teacher,” a monthly periodical put out by the American Federation of Teachers. Teachers’ unions, of course, are the largest supporters of the Democratic Party, so it’s not surprising that the AFT is endorsing Senator Kerry for president, citing a “97 percent AFT voting record” over his 19-year Senate career.

Given that, it’s not surprising to find a good deal of bias in the magazine. However, much of what is presented goes beyond mere bias and crosses fully into falsity. An article entitled “A Vision of Hope and Values,” for example, quotes Kerry extensively as he maligns the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) and President Bush's record on education in general.

“Millions of children have been left behind—left with overcrowded classrooms, left without textbooks and left without the high-quality tests that measure what they are learning,” said Kerry, who pledged to fully fund NCLB and special education as president as well as address the longstanding crisis that inadequate, unsafe public schools present.
The article fails to mention that NCLB was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support—including votes from Kerry and his running mate John Edwards. But that aside, what about the substance of Kerry’s criticisms? To start with, his claim that millions of children have been left behind has no foundation. As the Heritage Foundation reports,

Two years have passed, and it is too early to tell whether the law is working. State plan negotiations were not finished before June 2003. States and districts are still working out the kinks regarding accountability programs, teacher quality, public school choice, supplemental services, and other aspects of the law by trial and error. There are both positive signs and complications, but it is still too early to declare victory or defeat.
As to the specifics of Kerry’s charges, they don’t hold up either. On pages 156-61 of their book “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom document how billions of dollars spent on class size reduction—they cite the national average at 15 students per teacher—have bought us nothing. As they conclude: “Decades of research, however, have failed to establish that smaller classes have any measurable impact on student achievement.”

The assertion that an absence of high-quality testing is to blame for poor student achievement is simply laughable. Tests measure student achievement; they do not improve it. The purpose of NCLB is to better identify who is being left behind. It's the responsibility of educators to help students learn.

The article continues, quoting Kerry:
We shouldn’t be opening schools and firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them and watching them crumble in the United States.

More rhetoric. The war effort in the Middle East has not taken funds away from education. Despite claims to the contrary, NCLB has not been underfunded. Again from the Heritage Foundation:

The term unfunded mandate has been tossed around despite the fact that the act is both funded and voluntary… Democrats and their union allies claim that the NCLB is underfunded because Congress has not met the funding limits established in the bill. In response, the administration revealed that states have $5.75 billion in unspent federal ESEA funds in the bank. Some of the funds have languished there for more than three and a half years.

Some of the studies have padded their estimates by including costs not required by the NCLB in their expense totals. In response, AccountabilityWorks added up only the costs of goods and services required by the law and compared the total to the amount appropriated by Congress. It found that the act has been overfunded and states have more than enough money to meet the requirements of the NCLB.

The article continues by citing Kerry's call for a “national commitment to raise graduation rates through strong interventions like high-quality after-school programs, which he aims to expand to 3.5 million more students across the nation.”

Kerry hasn’t provided a lot of details on this proposal. Here is how it is described on his web site:

John Kerry and John Edwards are strong supporters of after-school programs. They give students extra help, keep them out of trouble, and offer peace of mind to working parents. The Kerry-Edwards "School's Open 'Til 'Six" initiative will offer after-school opportunities to 3.5 million children, through programs that are open until 6 p.m. and offer safe transportation for children.
This sounds like little more than government sponsored day-care, and it’s difficult to imagine how such an expensive program will do much, if anything, to improve student achievement.

The article concludes by citing Kerry’s proposal for “new incentives to hold college tuitions down and new tax credits to help make college more affordable.”

Kerry has been decrying rising tuition costs all along his campaign trail as part of his new “misery index.” But the truth is, this is a bogus issue. The Washington Times reports:
According to Sen. John Kerry, college tuition has skyrocketed over the past four years… Rising tuition, says Mr. Kerry, prices "thousands of young people right out of the American dream. The Bush economic policies have left states with nearly $90 billion in budget deficits, and have forced cuts to higher education budgets, resulting in higher tuition, increased class sizes, and cuts to counseling, tutoring, and remedial coursework.” Mr. Kerry, fortunately, doesn't merely have his facts wrong. He has them reversed.

According to a June 28 article in USA Today, while official tuition rates have increased substantially over the past four years, tuition actually paid has decreased at public universities, and increased only sluggishly at private ones… [S]ince President Bush took office, college education has become more affordable for the majority of American families, not less.
Our education system is in need of major reform. This requires an open, honest debate. Unfortunately, such a debate cannot take place while so much counterfeit information is being forwarded. These false talking points have been repeated so often that they have become accepted as fact. Sadly, conservatives have done a very poor job of correcting the record and educating the public on the issue.

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